Anza was also involved in the military campaigns against the Apache in what is now known as Arizona. He reached the rank of captain in 1760. The following year he married the daughter of Spanish mine owner Francisco Pérez Serrano.
Viceroy Antonio María de Bucareli asked Juan Bautista de Anza to explore the land north of New Spain. On 8th January, 1774, he left Tubac with Franciscan missionary, Francisco Garcés and 34 soldiers. Kevin Starr, the author of California (2005) has argued: "Captain Anza - a longtime veteran of frontier service with an outstanding reputation - set forth from the presido at Tubac, south of the present-day city of Tucson, with thirty-four soldiers and one Franciscan, Francisco Garcés, himself an experienced explorer."
5th February, he arrived at Taxco de Alarcón: At half past seven we set out along a made road toward the west-northwest, and having traveled seven leagues, continually passing hills on both sides, we reached the watering place which, on account of its long distance from the road, we inferred must be the one which the Jesuit fathers called Agua Escondida. Here with much difficulty we succeeded in watering the horses and mules only, for, because the flow decreased and of the great inconvenience, the cattle could not be watered by nightfall, so this was left until tomorrow."
Anza received help from Salvador Palma, a member of the Quechan tribe. However, he left the expedition on 13th February because he was unwilling to enter the territory of his enemies: "Having apologized to me several times for not being able to accompany me forward because we were already in the country of his enemies, when he bade me adieu he could not refrain from tears, and while the rest were telling him goodbye he wept. This action appears to me to be the strongest proof, and most praiseworthy in a heathen Indian and in a class of people amongst whom such a thing is not done even on the loss of children and relatives."
On 10th April he wrote: "At nine o'clock today I set out from the mission of San Gabriel, and going to the west-northwest I traveled four leagues, as far as the Porciúncula River; I followed this stream for two more leagues, and the remaining distance, up to fourteen leagues, I made to the west, traveling until vespers." Anza reached Mission San Gabriel on 22nd March, 1774. He then marched north to Monterey before returning to Tubac. As Kevin Starr has pointed out: "In one heroic trek, Anza had linked California overland to northern New Spain."
Antonio María de Bucareli was impressed with Anza's achievements and promoted him to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Bucareli wanted to establish another Spanish settlement in San Francisco. On 26th July, 1775, he sent Juan de Ayala, the captain of the San Carlos, to explore the San Francisco area by sea. He reached San Francisco Bay on 5th August.
Bucareli came to the conclusion that Anza was the best man to lead the overland party to San Francisco Bay. He was authorized to colonize the San Francisco Bay area. He recruited colonists from among the poor in Culiacan. The expedition left Tubac on 23rd October, 1775, with 245 people (155 of them women and children), 340 horses, 165 pack mules and 302 cattle for breeding stock. Pedro Font, a Franciscan priest was selected to accompany this expedition, because of his expertise with navigation.
Anza's expedition headed north down the Santa Cruz River, arriving in Tucson on 26th October. They then followed the Gila River west, to arrive at the Colorado River and a reunion with Chief Salvador Palma, and members of the Quechan tribe on 28th November. After crossing the Colorado, the expedition broke into 3 groups so that everyone could drink from the slow-filling desert water holes. After crossing the Sonoran Desert they reached Yuha Wells on 11th December.
After experiencing a freak desert snowstorm that resulted in the death of some of their livestock, they headed up Coyote Canyon, going through San Carlos Pass on 26th December. They reached Mission San Gabriel on 4th January. Since leaving Culiacan they had been travelling for over eight months. Anza had succeeded in taking his expedition through 1,800 miles of desert wilderness.
On 17th February 1776, Anza and his expedition began their march north, reaching Monterey on 10th March. Anza arrived in California with two more people than he had left with. Three children were born along the way; one woman died in childbirth. While the colonists remained in Monterey, José Joaquín Moraga and Pedro Font, and a small group of soldiers, went ahead. On 28th March, they reached the tip of the peninsula (now named Fort Point) where Anza planted a cross signifying the place where he thought the presido should be built. Father Font, wrote in his journal that night: "I think that if it could be well settled like Europe there would not be anything more beautiful in all the world."
Rand Richards, the author of Historic San Francisco (1991) has pointed out: "While the site for the presido was perfect for its strategic value, the windswept, rocky ledge was less than ideal for a mission settlement. So the next day, after exploring further, the small band came upon a sheltered valley three miles inland to the southeast. Here the soil and climate were better and there was abundant fresh water provided by a stream-fed lagoon."
Anza returned to New Spain and left behind José Joaquín Moraga to establish the Spanish settlement in the area. On 17th June, the colonists left Monterey to join Mortaga in San Francisco. The Mission San Francisco de Asís, a log and thatch church was completed on 29th June, 1776. The mission was composed of adobe and redwood and was 144 feet long and 22 feet wide. Francisco Palóu, a former student of Father Junipero Serra, was placed in charge of the mission that had been dedicated to San Francisco de Asis. It was about 3 miles from the Golden Gate. The surrounding houses, a pueblo, became known as Yerba Buena. It was named after a sweet-smelling minty herb that grew wild in the area.
The Spanish also built a Presido at San Francisco. According to Tracy Salcedo-Chouree, the author of California's Missions and Presidios (2005): "The Presidio of San Francisco started out much as other Spanish settlements - a cluster of brush and tule huts surrounded by a palisade that housed, according to one historian, about forty soldiers and nearly 150 settlers. Adobe would replace wood and mud within a few years, with a chapel, a guardhouse, officers' residences, barracks, warehouses, and other buildings forming a square protected by a defensive wall."
On 24th August 24, 1777, the Viceroy of New Spain appointed Anza as the Governor of the Province of Nuevo México. He organised a campaign against the Comanche and led a force of around 800 Spanish troops, supported by Ute, Apache, and Pueblo auxiliaries and won a famous military victory over Chief Cuerno Verde in September 1779.
The Spanish Government was eager to establish an overland link between California and New Spain and needed to establish a presence to protect point where travelers would ford the Colorado River. In January, 1781, Father Francisco Garcés, with the support of Juan Bautista de Anza, established the Mission San Pedro y San Pablo de Bicuñer. However, unlike the missions established by Junipero Serra, the powers of administration rested with the military and not with the padres, as a result the soldiers were abusive to the local Native Americans. Spanish colonists were also accused of seizing the best lands in the area. This caused conflict with the Native Americans.
In the summer of 1781, Fernando Rivera Moncada and a small group of soldiers advanced across the desert with a vast herd of animals, estimated to nearly 1,000 in number. On 17th July, while camped on the banks of the Colorado near Yuma, Rivera and his men were killed by a surprise attack by the Quechan tribe. They then went on to kill Francisco Garcés and the other missionaries at the Mission San Pedro y San Pablo de Bicuñer. The mission was never re-established and the overland route to Alta California was considered too hostile to be used and was therefore abandoned.
Juan Bautista de Anza died on 19th December, 1788.
8th January, 1774: All the foregoing being ready, Mass was sung in the morning with all the ceremony which the country permits, to invoke the divine aid in this expedition, and the Blessed Trinity and the mystery of the Immaculate Conception of Holy Mary were named as its patrons. This having been done, at one in the afternoon the march was begun, and having traveled a league we made camp for the night at the ford of San Xavier del Bac.
22nd January, 1774: At twelve o'clock we set forth toward the northwest over a good country, traveling at first a short distance from the river of Caborca. Then, having gone about four leagues, we paralleled on the right the medium-sized sierras of Piast and Buccomari, names in the Pima language, and some small peaks on the left. Having traveled two more leagues between them, we camped on a flat which has plentiful pasturage, the first found after leaving Caborca. Here the rest of the night was passed, and the place was called San Ildephonso.
5th February, 1774: At half past seven we set out along a made road toward the west-northwest, and having traveled seven leagues, continually passing hills on both sides, we reached the watering place which, on account of its long distance from the road, we inferred must be the one which the Jesuit fathers called Agua Escondida. Here with much difficulty we succeeded in watering the horses and mules only, for, because the flow decreased and of the great inconvenience, the cattle could not be watered by nightfall, so this was left until tomorrow. From Tubac to El Agua Escondida, 126 leagues.
Here at this place we found a Pápago, a native of the pueblo of San Marcelo de Sonóitac, with his family. He was a Christian called Luís, and was returning to San Marcelo from the rivers Gila and Colorado. Having already learned of my coming to the rivers, he had set out from there the day before to warn me that I should advance to them with caution, saying that part of the people, and especially those living some distance above the junction of the two rivers, had decided to prevent me from crossing the streams, intending to kill me, the fathers, and others who were with me, in order to possess our horses and other things which I brought. He added that the captain of the Yumas whom we call Palma had not been able to dissuade these people from their intention; but that he had declared that he was always favorable to me, as were all of his nation and his allies down the river, and that his friendly attitude was being supported by two other chiefs or head men. The Pápago said that these two and Palma were checking the disturbers, chiding them for their bad conduct, and warning them of their peril, saying that the soldiers were sufficient with their valor and their weapons to cope with many more if they should provoke us, but that if they did not do so we were so well disposed that without any pressure we would make them presents of whatever we were bringing and they might desire, as we had done with Palma himself when he went to our settlements, where he and those who accompanied him were treated kindly.
This report, although it gave me no great anxiety, served as a warning, so that in case it might have some foundation I might provide the means to frustrate the plan completely. Indeed, any inquietude on the part of these chiefs would be prejudicial to us. And since the prevention of such unrest was one of my first cares and one of the first aims of the orders of his Excellency the Viceroy, and of the Council of War and Exchequer, I prepared to proceed accordingly. For this purpose, consulting the reverend fathers who accompanied me and who agreed with me, I set about learning with certainty what foundation this story had, and since nobody could tell us better than the same Captain Palma, I thought it best to talk with him before taking for granted the report about the disaffected Indians. To put this into effect I decided to send for him, before reaching the rivers, by the bearer of the story himself, promising him a horse and presents. He replied that he would gladly go the next day, but that he was tired now, and he knew that there would be time to come with the Captain to meet me the following morning, on my arrival at the rivers.
13th February, 1774: With some individuals of the Cojat tribe guiding us to a suitable watering place, we set out from Santa Olaya at nine in the morning, going west-northwest and at times northwest. On the road which we followed we found two pools of dirty salt water without any pasturage. Traveling until sunset, and covering only about seven leagues, because today a number of the loaded mules became tired out, camp was made at an arroyo which I called El Carrizal, the only one which was found with water fit for the animals to drink. It has an abundance of water but it is as bad as that of the foregoing places.
Salvador Palma, the captain of the Yumas, remained at the place from which we set out today. The last proof which he gave us of his love and affection is noteworthy. Having apologized to me several times for not being able to accompany me forward because we were already in the country of his enemies, when he bade me adieu he could not refrain from tears, and while the rest were telling him goodbye he wept. This action appears to me to be the strongest proof, and most praiseworthy in a heathen Indian and in a class of people amongst whom such a thing is not done even on the loss of children and relatives; for, indeed, although it is true they do make such demonstrations they are feigned and transparent. Shortly before this incident occurred he voluntarily told me that by the time I returned to his house the great flood of the river already would have arrived, but that I must not worry about crossing, for he would begin at once to assemble timbers to make rafts, and would take me over to the other side in perfect safety. From Tubac to Arroyo del Carrizal, 161 leagues.
10th April, 1774: In view of the decision made on the 5th of this month, I charged the Reverend Father Fr. Juan Díaz that as soon as Father Fr. Francisco Garcés, his companion, arrives at this mission, they shall set out on the return to the Colorado River, with all of the soldiers remaining here, and having arrived at the river they shall dispatch this extraordinary courier, and I have requested likewise that this journey shall be made in the same manner as when we came, so that there may be no disturbance among the tribes living along the way. With this caution, together with others, I separately charged our soldiers.
At nine o'clock today I set out from the mission of San Gabriel, and going to the west-northwest I traveled four leagues, as far as the Porciúncula River; I followed this stream for two more leagues, and the remaining distance, up to fourteen leagues, I made to the west, traveling until vespers. From Tubac to the vicinity of El Triunfo, 282 leagues.
11th May, 1774: The latitude of this place, which is close to San Dionicio, was observed and found to be in 32º 44'. This does not agree with the observation made by the first discoverer, Father Francisco Eusevio Quino, as is related in the book of the Afanes Apostólicos on folio 288, where it states that he found it to be in 35º 30'. This day was dedicated to rest for all. Since we have returned to the Colorado River from a much greater distance beyond it than any of our predecessors who have journeyed to it even thought of going, it will not be beside the point to say that we have tried to learn from these heathen and others, wherever we have gone, in what direction the famous Sierra Azul is situated, and the Laguna de Azogue, which is noted by Lieutenant Don Matheo Mange, companion of this Father Quino, in a book which he dedicated to the most excellent Viceroy, Duke of Alburquerque, or the Rio Amarillo on the other side of the Colorado, but, even taking their existence for granted, we have not discovered any ground for concluding that these tales can be verified.